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He lost his job and health insurance after his arrest under a DeSantis election unit. The case was dismissed

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced his “opening salvo” against voter fraud in the state with the sweeping arrest of 20 people back in August, targeted by a new election police unit created by the governor last year.

But court records and police reports reviewed by The Independent last year show that the people targeted by the DeSantis administration in a high-profile campaign-like press conference were told by election workers or other government officials that they were eligible to vote.

After his arrest, one of those men lost his job and his employer-provided health insurance, and his wife dropped out of college courses to help the family pay rent. His case was eventually dismissed altogether.

“It knocked me to my knees, if you want to know the truth,” Peter Washington told The Washington Post.

A judge ruled that the prosecutor who filed charges against him did not actually have the jurisdiction to do so, according to the newspaper. Washington’s attorney noted that he received an official voter identification card in the mail after registering, and the case was dismissed in February.

All 20 people targeted in the operation were formerly incarcerated people with felony convictions for murder and sex offenses, and all were charged with illegally voting, a third-degree felony in the state. People convicted of murder or sex offences remain ineligible, under Florida law.

Defendants said they did not intend to commit any crime, believing that a recent constitutional amendment granted them their right to vote after they were disenfranchised because of their felony convictions. According to videos of their arrests, they were left confused and deeply frustrated by the charges, and officers appeared unsure whether they did anything wrong.

As The Independent previously reported, defendants in each of the cases reported that a county elections office or some government official or agency advised that they could register to vote.

At least one man was arrested at gunpoint.

From those 20 arrests, six have been dismissed, and five others resulted in plea deals with no jail time. One case has gone to trial, with a split verdict, and the remaining cases are pending.

The unit behind the operation made only four other arrests within its first nine months, according to an agency report earlier this year.

The cases have magnified the complications surrounding voting rights for people with felony convictions and reflected the political minefield that took shape after Florida voters overwhelmingly supported a constitutional amendment to restore their right to vote in 2018.

Voting rights advocates have also argued that the arrests expose gaps in a system that should have prevented “illegal voting” in the first place.

The rhetoric surrounding the operation and other GOP-led scrutiny into allegations of fraud follow a 2020 presidential election cycle fuelled by a false narrative that widespread fraud or vote manipulation prevented Donald Trump’s loss, a claim that continues to propel the former president’s 2024 ambitions, other Republican campaigns, legislation and policies across the US to change the rules of election administration.

Meanwhile, as Mr DeSantis weighs his own presidential ambitions, the governor is asking Florida lawmakers to triple his election police division’s budget from $1.2m to $3.1m. His administration also supports a bill that would give a statewide prosecutor jurisdiction over election crime cases, after judges have repeatedly dismissed his alleged voter fraud cases for lack of jurisdiction.

At least four other states – Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Ohio – have considered creating similar election police units.